Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell graduated its first class to complete the new and improved 14.5-month Aviation Maintenance Technology program, Tuesday.
Twelve students received their certificates of completion, which demonstrate through the FAA, that the students have accumulated the knowledge necessary to take exams for an airframe and powerplant license.
Juan Salmon, director of aviation programs at ENMU-R, was given the task of revamping the AMT program in 2010. The program previously took two years to complete but was shortened to 14.5 months to create a faster track for students to enter the work force.
Salmon said he has no doubt Tuesday’s graduates are equipped for success. “I think it puts them at a great advantage to be trained and then get out in the work force as soon as possible. This is one of the fastest ones in the nation right now, and because ENMU-R is not privately owned, it’s extremely affordable compared to other institutions that offer the same type of training we do.
“Usually, with other careers, you’ll go four years. But at 14.5 months, you can go out in the field making an average of $50,000-plus a year.”
Graduate and Roswell resident Michelle Smith said that prior to enrolling in ENMU-R’s AMT program she had acquired sheet metal experience at an aviation company in Albuquerque, a job that ultimately convinced her it was time to get an A&P license.
“I was working alongside A&P doing exactly the same thing,” she said. “But the difference was they were making three times as much. So when work stopped, I had the opportunity to come down here so I can make the big bucks.”
Graduate Rob McWilliams, also from Roswell, lost his job two years ago. He said that actually turned out to be “the best thing that could have happened.” McWilliams, a helicopter crew chief in the military in the 1980s and 1990s, decided it was time to get back into aviation.
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “… I have a private pilot license, so I want to be a working A&P that also flies for somebody in the future.”
McWilliams, who has already completed all of the testing and received his A&P license two weeks before graduation, said he sees the future of aviation in small commuters, helicopters, small twin-engine aircraft, small jets, all of which serve in “getting people to places that big, commercial jets normally can’t get to.”
Salmon said that while many students are attracted to the program because of a background in aviation or mechanics, one of the best parts about AMT is how the coursework assumes students have no such background. “They teach you from absolute ground zero — from not knowing anything about aviation, to being able to take those exams and getting your A&P.
“I had no mechanical experience whatsoever. Now I’m a welder. Now I’m a composite worker. Now I’m a sheet metal man. Now I’m a fabricator. I’m an electrician. You name it, and I can do it. I can work on my own vehicles, I can work on anything that has a manual now — anything! — and do it with confidence.”